Los Angeles Times
By HUGO MARTIN
The first visitors to Disneyland’s highly anticipated new Star Wars attraction will each be given a four-hour window to take in the $1-billion expansion — but how that deadline will be enforced is still unclear.
With six weeks to go before the May 31 opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disneyland sent out emails over the weekend to fans who were guaranteed access to the land by making reservations at any of the resort’s three hotels.
The Anaheim theme park also revealed that fans who have not booked a room at a resort hotel can visit the Star Wars land by making reservations via the Disneyland website, starting May 2.
The time limit and the reservation system may be a way for Disneyland to avoid the type of gridlock and social media backlash that often come with the opening of other blockbuster attractions, such as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2016.
“What they are doing are two different things: designing an attraction for the ages, but also getting out in front of managing expectations,” said Bill Coan, president and chief executive of Itec Entertainment, an Orlando, Fla.-based attraction designer and producer.
The rollout of the new land has already been plagued by glitches.
Dozens of fans who have made hotel reservations at the resort complained on social media that the park sent them emails with a window to visit Star Wars land either a day before the land is scheduled to open or before their hotel reservations.View image on Twitter
Park representatives acknowledged that a technical goof was responsible for some hotel guests being sent the wrong date for their reservation to visit the Star Wars land, but they say the error was fixed Monday.
The snafu prompted guests to call the theme park in hopes of fixing the reservation error, only to be put on hold for up to two hours.
The opening of the 14-acre land is expected to create such a crush of fans that Disneyland engineers and landscapers have been working for several months to come up with ways to widen walkways and improve queueing systems to accommodate more visitors.
Disneyland managers announced last month that the efforts to ease congestion included removing several smoking areas from the resort and banning extra wide strollers by May 1.
The new land, which will resemble an out-of-the-way outpost on the planet Batuu, will feature two rides, four eateries, one space-themed cantina and five retail shops.
Only one of the two rides in the land — the interactive Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run — will operate when the land opens. The second attraction in the new land — Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance — will open later in the year.
The Star Wars land is being replicated at Walt Disney World in Orlando. That attraction will open Aug. 29.
At Disneyland, the new land is the biggest expansion since the Anaheim park opened in 1955. The addition of Star Wars characters and themes was expected after Walt Disney Co. announced a $4-billion deal in 2012 to acquire Lucasfilm, the production company that created the Star Wars franchise.
For the first three weeks after the new land opens, only visitors with reservations will be allowed inside. Guests at the resort’s three hotels will be allotted one four-hour window to visit the land regardless of how many days they stay in the hotels. Rooms are still available for that period at prices that range from $503 to $763 a night, which works out to $125.75 to $190.75 per Star Wars hour, on top of the regular admission price.
Parkgoers who want to visit the Star Wars land, but are not staying in a resort hotel, can book a reservation time by creating an account with the Disneyland Resort website. All reservations to the new land are free.
After June 23, no reservations will be required to enter the new land, but Disneyland representatives say they will install a “virtual queuing system,” similar to the park’s Fastpass, the ride reservation system that the park invented in 1999.
Still, some key details about the May 31 opening of the Star Wars land have not been disclosed.
The park assigned the exact time of the four-hour window for each hotel guest based on capacity issues. Disneyland representatives said the time window could be modified to fit the visitor’s schedule, subject to availability.
Park managers have yet to explain how they will enforce the four-hour time window, saying details will be unveiled in the future.
Industry experts say theme parks have used color-coded wristbands in the past to designate when guests can enter an attraction.
Martin Lewison, a theme park expert and business management professor at Farmingdale State College in New York, noted that Disneyland now uses such color-coded wristbands when the park closes off an attraction or a specific area for a special holiday event. Visitors who paid extra to attend the event are given colored wristbands, and those who aren’t wearing them are ushered away, he said.
“They are actually masters of moving people by setting up stanchions and having staff all ready,” he said.
Problems could arise if the crowds are so heavy that parkgoers feel four hours is not enough to visit all the shops and attractions, said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services.
Another potential problem may arise if the Millennium Falcon attraction malfunctions and is taken offline, forcing visitors to leave before they have a chance to experience it, he said.
“I’m not sure how they are going to do it exactly,” he said. “This is something new.”
But Speigel said he expects that if Disneyland officials must force guests to leave the land, they will do it in “a hospitable and cordial manner.”